Natural Hair vs Lace Wig
A reader takes up our hair challenge
E ‘Ever since I can remember, I’ve relaxed my hair – it was something my mom had always done, and something she did with us as we grew up, too. But my hair never reacted well to being chemically straightened – it would break and refused to grow, and my scalp would suffer with wounds from the treatments. Eventually, in December 2016, I’d had enough. I cut off my hair, growing it out into its natural Afro form. Now my norm is to wear braids – meaning I only rock my natural Afro for a week or two between braids.
‘So when COSMO asked me to do an experiment and wear my Afro for one day, then a lace wig the next – and see what changed (if anything) – I was intrigued. It’s no secret that a black woman’s hair is symbolic and deeply personal. My two-day experience was short and, of course, my own – but what I learnt is important for women everywhere.
DAY 1 Natural Afro
‘First things fi rst – rocking natural hair is anything but simple. The night before, I sectioned my hair off and braided it in sections. Then I soaked it in coconut oil (for protection and growth), and wrapped my locks in a silk scarf before heading to bed. In the morning, I took out my braids, combed through my hair and added oil to the ends. The final touch? Using a toothbrush to lay down the edges.
‘The first person to react to my Afro was my boyfriend – and he loved it. “You seem more comfortable with your Afro,” he said. “And that makes you beautiful.” And he’s right – I love wearing my natural hair; it feels me.
‘Buoyed by my confidence, I headed to a local coffee shop at UCT. As I walked through campus and into the coffee shop, one black woman after another stopped to comment about my hair. Things like, “We love your Afro!” and “What products do you use in your hair?” The barista serving me – a black girl in her 20s – was also interested in my Afro. “How long have you had your natural hair for?” she asked. With the questions came plenty of compliments, too. I got, “I love your natural look!” from friends and strangers, almost always followed by, “What did you use?”
‘There’s something about black women and hair that creates a sisterhood: there are so many things we can do with our hair – and so many struggles surrounding it! – that it’s always a bonding subject.
‘Then there were some comments from friends that I think they meant kindly, but actually hurt. “When are you getting your weave back?” was one, implying that my natural hair wasn’t preferable. And then, “Oh, you looked so pretty when you had your hair like this” *points to a pic of me with a weave or braids*. But I let the comments slide – I’ve become pretty numb to this kind of feedback because it happens often. A lot of it has to do with ignorance rather than malice. And when it comes to my white friends – whom I love – very few of them seem to understand the complexities of black hair.
‘Another interesting thing I noticed is that I felt more perceived as “woke” or political wearing my natural hair. With the rise of #BlackGirlMagic on social media, and celebs such as Solange celebrating their blackness publicly, more Millennial black women are feeling empowered in their blackness. Perhaps that’s where an association between natural hair and making some kind of political statement comes from. With my Afro, I was understood by some peers to be using my hair to make a statement – proud to be black. The funny thing is, I don’t like the inverse implication of that: that if you wear a wig or weave, or relax your hair, you’re somehow not woke or political, or you’re rejecting your blackness.
‘That evening, as I headed out for drinks in Cape Town with friends, the questions and compliments didn’t stop. I didn’t feel like I was treated differently, but I did feel noticed in a different kind of way. For example, when I walked into the first bar, a group of older black women enjoying drinks outside stopped me to tell me how great my hair looked, and then followed with the usual haircare-routine question time.
DAY 2 Lace wig
‘I decided to put in the lace wig from Style Diva myself. I put my hair in cornrows, cut the closure and laid it. Then I styled pieces of the wig with curlers, and I was ready to go.
‘Looking in the mirror before I left home was odd. I felt pretty self-conscious – for a wig to look good, you worry about whether it’s been put in properly, if it’ll stay put, and whether it looks super-fake. I felt like there was way more pressure than if I was wearing my natural hair. That said, I did feel pretty sassy! It was fun to be able to play with the length and flick my hair around.
‘Hair should be a choice, not a prescription’
‘I headed back to campus to get another coffee – but this time I got literally zero compliments or comments. Nothing. Neither passersby nor the café staff paid attention to me, which was an odd comparison to yesterday.
‘I moved on to lunch at a restaurant in Green Point – but still nothing. As I sat and thought about it over sushi, the juxtaposition of the whole thing bothered me. Why was it noticeable or “special” to wear hair that’s part of my natural state of being, but unnoticeable or “normal” to wear hair that I’ve specially bought and put in? Surely it should be the other way around? Like when you buy a special dress or put on red lipstick – things that aren’t necessarily natural, “normal” you – that’s when you get the compliments, right? That people seemed to pay more attention to me when I was wearing my Afro suggested how abnormal going “natural” is for black women. And that saddened me.
‘The one good thing was that, while out that evening, I didn’t feel like I got any special treatment wearing a Western-style wig. No free drinks (is it my sense of humour? My bad jokes?), and a reassuring sense that, fundamentally, my hair didn’t dictate everything about my life.
What did I learn?
‘Your hair can be a statement, and people do attach stereotypes to you based on it. But I love that we’re moving into a time where black girls can celebrate their blackness and don’t have to conform so heavily to Western beauty ideals.
‘It was refreshing to see how much my Afro was complimented. That said, hair should be a choice, not a prescription. We shouldn’t judge any woman for her hair, whatever her race or background. And the more we learn about one another’s culture, the more we erode potentially damaging stereotypes and judgments.
‘I prefer my natural hair – I love the way it looks on me. I love that my hair defies gravity. I love tracking my growth and finding new products that work. It’s liberating to feel beautiful in your own skin – but that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy wearing weaves and braids, too. I think the magical thing about being a black woman is that, when it comes to our hair, we have so many options. As Solange sings in Don’t Touch My Hair, my hair is a presentation of the feelings that I wear as a black woman. And that’s what really counts.’ ■
THE SENSATIONNEL EASY 5 LOOSE LACE WIG IN COLOUR 4 IS AVAILABLE AT
STYLEDIVA. CO. ZA FOR R819